Sunday, 8 April 2007

Heaven and Hell

One minute I was sitting on the veranda at home in 6, Little Road, Cascade looking over to the hills on the other side of the bowl like valley and seeing the twinkling lights of downtown Port of Spain.

And what seemed like the next I was sitting in an ugly living room in our Wimpy House (ex show house) in Emmer Green, Reading.
Surrounded by a muddy garden with wooden fence on an estate that was not quite finished, we were surrounded by houses being built all around us and the heavy machinery and all the workers during the week and at weekends it was deserted and unlovely.

What an oases in a veritable Garden of Eden. It was not a pretty sight nor was it a very exciting or fun sort of place. It was a sort of suburb on the outskirt of town and with an erratic bus service and out of date timetable.
Up to now the population had been either the well off who had their own transport or the council house tenants for whom the policy “they should be glad they get any buses up there” seemed to prevail.

It was the sort of place that at that time was not a real suburb but also not country somewhere in between, a sort of nowhere place. The only shops were a newsagent’s and a small sub post office and a fish and chip shop.
There were three pubs one with a skittle alley, which was very popular at weekends especially. There was a mobile shop and the potato and vegetable man came round as did a wet fish van and the Tizer truck.

Apart from the chicken shit tractor, which was the other most exciting event on the new estate. We were only 30 minutes by car from the town centre of Reading but it seemed like light years away once we had moved in to our lovely new wimpy house.

Going into Reading town centre became practically as exciting as going up to London but then only as far as logistics of getting there as although we were so close if you just missed a bus you could sometimes wait up to 40 minutes for another bus into town.

I remember sitting on that Cascade veranda with our Dalmatian dog Peggy and listening to the steel bands practicing for carnival. Evening after evening hearing them tuning their pans and going over and over the same tune. Very exciting especially when carnival time really is close, as you can feel it in the atmosphere.

The parties are getting more in number and suddenly it’s there everyone is happy as there are lots of parties and a great time had by all ending up on carnival Monday when everyone follows the bands and jumps up in the street.
It was lovely listening to the sounds, darkness comes quick out there one minute its daytime the next it is night. That’s when you see the fireflies’ lovely little darting flashes of light. This is a luminous insect that starts to fly just after darkness falls. Then the crickets start and it’s quite a concert.

In town the major concert will be the dogs all barking at each other as soon as it get as dark for at least a few hours when they finally do other important things like endlessly grooming themselves and each other.

Devalli is another beautiful memory the whole place lit up. Although an Indian festival, a lot of people join in by lighting candles on their veranda’s same at other times and of course kids especially enjoying celebrating Christmas several times as the adults obviously enjoyed several new year’s eve parties.

Getting a takeaway was different too we used to go out down to the savannah and getting a roti with potato curry. There were wonderful Indian women sitting with charcoal braziers and big iron griddles cooking roti’s to order.

There were also curry houses of all shapes and sizes where you could buy also hang and eat your roti. Some no matter how small had a couple of private rooms basically a couple of booths created with hardboard or curtains.
Or just lino and hope but they worked well and you could cram round a table and indulge in what you fancied. But it was usually more fun to sit in the main room and joining all the conversations or just listen to all the other people.

Every weekend we went to visit an aunt Jo and uncle Keith in San Fernando and ate with the family, as there were nine kids that meant quite a crowd. Often also their friends would be there so Sunday lunch was a busy and popular time.
It was a funny old house added on to what now seems to be a railway carriage. I wonder if it’s the train from the song “last train to San Fernando”.

When one of my cousins got married, her and her bloke just moved down the hill at the back of the house and built their house there. Then it was even more fun going to visit as there were now two houses to run in and out of, and have fun in.
Maureen was a lovely woman, and made everyone feel very welcome. This was her first house and she enjoyed offering all her visitors enormous hospitality. She was still the same when I saw her again in 1997 for the first time since I left in 1962. Then she was continuously freshening up my drink, usually because auntie would regally command her to do this.

My other cousin Aileen told me in 1997 that my mother had been a big role model where household presentation was concerned. She always admired how my mother had laid the table, especially for special diners. She said she thought it was very stylish and she took it all in, candles and all. Years later I found myself in Aileen's dining room thinking that it all looked strangely familiar. It was it was pure Erika style.

One time dad tried to kill a chicken for Sunday lunch and it did not quite go as planned. Instead of catching the chicken quickly from behind he turned it into a race round the yard, as he sprinted behind a chicken finally grabbing the bird and put its head under a box, then he cut off the head.
Bad move as the body sprung round the yard spraying blood everywhere much to my poor father’s shock and horror he finally captured the right body under the box and after a few more minutes all body movements had stopped.It had not been a pleasant event.
Poor fellow had to put up with a few comments about it on that day but also on numerous other occasions as my mother fancied.

My dad was better at catching crabs in the car headlights on the way home along the coast road. The he always had a big pan with lid in the boot the crab would be thrown in the pan. At home dad would make crab and callaloo, this is a delicious crab and spinach dish.

The best coast road near home was the one, which ran through the American base. You could use the beaches on the base but had to queue up for a permit to drive through to the beach. When you got to the top of the queue you were looked over, so was your family and anyone in your car, sometimes they might want to look at what you had with you.
Then you were given a piece of paper with the day date and time you came into the base. When you drove off, you were not supposed to stop anywhere on the way to the beach for any reason apart from accident or breakdown. And you were not supposed to be there after dark.So crab catching along this road certainly had some dangers attached to it.

Nevertheless dad caught his best crabs along that road, he also enjoyed it more. Quite often telling outrageous stories about the car suddenly cutting out and not being able to start until now. ‘‘Well what do you know! Fancy that suddenly the car is going again”

My mum was abit odd about the food, she was abit suspicious which is funny given what she must have ate during and after the war. She always worried that she would get cockroaches in the Chinese food.
Always talking at great length about how many of the insects would be walking about on the ceiling of the kitchen and that would of course mean that every now and then a few would drop into the food being prepared. That meant if we got any Chinese she would have to examine it to make sure there were no cockroach legs in the fried rice.

One time when we were round to dinner at auntie Gussie and uncle Edgar, auntie had made curried agouti, a type of mongoose, my mum could not eat it she felt unwell at the thought of it. Not me I enjoyed it, as did the others.

One day when mum was first in Trinidad and they were still staying with auntie Gussie and uncle Edgar, she got a package from Germany, in it a precious servalat worst (German type of salami). She hung it up somewhere safe, meaning to enjoy eating the odd slice here and there, while thinking about Germany with painful nostalgia.

Then the very next day she is woken up by the smell of something frying, drawn by the smell my mother goes to the kitchen to find auntie Gussie saying ‘’hello darling you have caught me out trying to surprise you by making breakfast” she also adds that she is looking forward to trying this strange German sausage she is cooking.

This is when my mother shrieks as she realizes she has cooked her servalat worst. Oh horror especially as she has been waiting for months for this special treat. I bet she went off and had a good cry about the loss of her servalat worst and the reckless behavior of Gussie who obviously knew nothing frying a servalat worst.
I bet she made sure that her biscuits from Aachen, the packets of Aachner Printen, peppery ginger biscuits, were well hidden before Gussie curried them for lunch the following day.

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